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Frank S. Miklos is current presdient of the Electric Railroaders' Association.
One of the most dramatic effects of the
recent record-breaking Northeastern USA and southern Ontario power blackout
(which began late in the afternoon of 14 August 2003) was its impact on
transportation. By and large, the mainstream news media focused almost
exclusively on the shutdown of major electric transport systems –
such as New York City's subway network, electrified regional
systems like Metro-North, sections of the Amtrak system in the
Northeast Corridor, and Toronto's subway and streetcar systems.
The impact on motor vehicle transportation was all but ignored; on
the whole, the motor vehicle system was portrayed as if it just
continued normally, perhaps with more traffic jams than usual.
In reality, it was not only the electric transportation system that was affected by the blackout: motor vehicle transportation was seriously disrupted as well. Particularly in the major cities hit, virtually all roadways became parking lots because the traffic lights went out and the intersections became gridlocked. Motor vehicle tunnels such as the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels connecting Manhattan to New Jersey also had to be closed because their ventilation systems are powered by electricity. Gas stations were rendered inoperable because the pumps are electrically powered. Driving after dark became more hazardous because of limited visibility due to street lights being out.
Michigan: Cars, SUVs, vans line up in
gigantic traffic jam waiting for gas pumps to function.
In the case of electric railway systems, reports suggest that the power supply for the operation of the trains was generally not affected because it is independent of the grid. However, the power for the signals and switches comes from the regular commercial sources along with the power for the platforms in the subway stations. According to newspaper reports, some rail service out of Penn Station to New Jersey was provided as early as 7:30 PM.
There's another lesson from the blackout,
at least in New York City. When the
subways were shut down, the displaced
passengers literally took to the streets. The
volume of pedestrian traffic was too much
for the sidewalks and bridge walkways, so
pedestrians started to walk in the traffic
lanes, thereby blocking motor vehicles. On TV, traffic helicopters
showed thousands of pedestrians crossing the Brooklyn and
Williamsburg Bridges (connecting Manhattan with Brooklyn),
occupying one of the traffic lanes because the walkways were a
solid mass of people. The same was true for many of
Clearly, without the subways, New York City would have to widen the sidewalks and reduce the number of traffic lanes. in effect, the power blackout of August 2003 helped provide another example of how motorists would be worse off without good reliable public transportation.